As part of a broader change to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) health and dental plan, members’ coverage will be expanded to include psychological care. Beginning in September 2016, members will be entitled to up to $100 of coverage per session with a registered psychologist, for up to 20 sessions per year. 

“Mental health on campus has been a prominent issue for as long as I’ve been at U of T,” said Auni Ahsan, UTSU director for Victoria University, who moved the motion to include psychological care in the health plan. “Students here face lots of challenges and stressors in getting their degree, and these unfortunately often compounded with mental illness.”

Ahsan cited a lack of resources for students dealing with mental health issues and the prohibitively expensive cost of psychological care among the reasons he wants to see the plan expand. 

“The university’s resources are stretched very thin though, and it’s not necessarily [the] role of the university to care for the mental health of its students. I personally believe the impetus should be on the government to provide adequate psychological care,” Ahsan said.

According to Ahsan, the government-recommended per session cost of an appointment with a psychologist in the GTA is $220. “[O]ne hundred dollars is a significant subsidy,” Ahsan said of the funding. “Rates for psychologists vary to a degree, so students unable to afford $120 per session will still have options.”

Ryan Gomes, UTSU vice president, internal & services, said that other changes include switching the UTSU’s insurance provider to Desjardins and changing the type of plan itself.

Gomes explained that the changes were made “in order to stabilize the plan financially and also save our students money by choosing a plan with a much smaller increase in overall cost.”

The UTSU recently changed its insurance broker to StudentCare, a firm that focuses exclusively on student health plans. StudentCare offers a telecommunication-based psychology service that students who are uncomfortable with a physical visit or are unable to travel to a distant location may use. Access to this network costs $150 per session for students on the plan — a cost that with the new coverage, would be reduced.

Directors present at a recent UTSU Board of Directors meeting discussed what changes could be made to the health plan. Gomes and Ahsan felt that affordable psychological care was an issue of the utmost importance.

“There was a long discussion about what could be included in the changes we underwent, but ultimately we decided that increased psychological care was the most pressing issue that we could cover,” Gomes said. “We’re hoping that this change will have the greatest impact on improving student well being moving forward.”

“With the recent changes, the largest student health and dental plan in Canada approved one of the most aggressive coverage options for this issue. It is my hope that this direct action helps to move Ontario into a position more supportive and aware of mental health and illness,” said Ahsan.